Bricklayer Bill’s Ultra-Marathon of a Life
Clinging to the undercarriage of a speeding train. Getting punched in the face for two bucks. Leaving a hospital bed to run a marathon. All just another day at the office for the gutsiest journeyman athlete of the early twentieth century.
Illustrations by Jason Week
The odds were against Bill Kennedy when the gust of wind blew him off that roof. One moment, the bricklayer was applying some finishing touches to the Des Moines Coliseum. The next, he was plunging sixty-five feet toward the unforgiving sidewalk below. At age twenty-five, Bill appeared destined to become a statistic: Des Moines’s second bricklayer fatality that week, and one of an estimated 800 nationally that year.
Probably, Kennedy did not ponder these stats as he sailed earthward. But if, as neuroscientists say, our perception of time slows down during traumatic moments, he might have cursed himself and wondered: How did a kid from the streets of Harlem end up on a rooftop in Iowa in the first place?
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